Japan looks to take in more ethnic Karen refugees from Myanmar

Kyodo

The government has widened the window for ethnic Karen refugees who have been fleeing fighting in Myanmar for two decades to resettle in Japan, a Japanese diplomat said Thursday.

Junji Ito, first secretary for political affairs at the Japanese Embassy in Bangkok, gave a briefing on the resettlement program to 15 Karen families out of some 41 people living in Thailand’s Um-Piam camp, which houses more than 25,000 refugees along Thailand’s border with Myanmar.

Ito, who visited the camp along with an official from the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said Japan will extend a resettlement program for the Karen refugees for three years.

Under an initial three-year-plan that will end next March, Japan had hoped to take in 90 refugees from Thailand’s Tak Province, but so far only nine families, constituting 45 members, have resettled in Japan, Ito said.

“We will extend the settlement program for three more years and each year we hope to accept some 30 refugees, hopefully also from the Um-Piam camp,” Ito told the refugees before showing them a video presentation of compatriots who have begun their new life in Japan.

The government provides a training program, including Japanese language and vocational skills, both before and after the refugees arrive.

Currently, Thailand has some 150,000 refugees in nine camps along the border, 60 percent of whom are in three camps in Tak Province.

Since 2007, the UNHCR has facilitated third-country resettlement for some 80,000 refugees. More than 80 percent have resettled in the United States.